Marcos Carrillo, 3, of Hammond and his mom Eli pet a prarie dog at the summer reading program wrap-up on Thursday at the Hayward branch of the Hammond Public Library. | Jim Karczewski ~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 2, 2011 7:16PM
More than 125 people recently visited the Community Room at the Hammond Public Library to get up front and personal with “Samantha’s Amazing Animals.”
The wrap-up event for the library’s Summer Reading Program brought some unique creatures from the traveling zoo from Chicago.
Among the show’s stars were Arnold the baby alligator, Julius Squeezer the snake and Larry the legless lizard.
“That couldn’t be a lizard, he looks like a fat snake,” said audience member Joey Hatfield, 6, as zoo representative Renee Cajandig held up Larry for the crowd to see. “I don’t think I want to pet him.”
Cajandig mentioned that just because it has no legs doesn’t mean it can’t be a lizard. “Its body is very distinctive — it has ears, snakes have no ears. And Larry has eyelids — snakes have no eyelids.”
Many families attended the animal show, and parents as well as youngsters, learned a few lessons.
As Cajandig presented Julius Squeezer, a python from Asia, she discussed its makeup and habits.
“It smells the air with its tongue, so it’s not being rude when it sticks it out,” Cajandig said with a laugh. “They can grow to be 24 feet long and 200 pounds. And, they aren’t slimy, as most people think. It’s just the light reflecting off them. They are very smooth.”
As Cajandig showcased many other animals such as a prairie dog, chinchilla, and ferret, her co-worker Claudia Espinosa traveled through the audience with the charges, giving everyone a chance to see the animals close up.
Danielle Hillard of Hammond attended the show with daughter Brittaney, 6 and son Brandon, 3. Hillard serves as PTA treasurer of Lincoln Elementary School where her daughter is a student.
“Brittaney is going into first grade and this is a special time for her; the reading aspect is very important,” Hillard said. “The library teaches the joy of reading and the Summer Reading Club is supporting her in many ways.”
Hammond mother Maria Mota agrees. She also feels that her children are doing more than just crossing off titles on their list.
Son Mauricio Cortes, 12 and daughter Yessenia, 7, were excited to talk about their summer selections and what they learned.
“Reading ‘Diary of a Wimp’ was fun to read, and with the others I have earned a medal,” Mauricio said.
“‘Jenny B. Jones’ was my favorite,” Yessenia chimed in. “I’m reading a lot of other books too and earning points.”
The recent animal show was the frosting on the cake for the children in the audience, according to Suzanne White of Hammond. Wrapping up the Summer Reading Program with yet another educational opportunity was more than anyone could ask for, she added.
“As the zoo ladies show each of the animals, they’re also giving lessons on where they come from and their habits,” she said. “The kids are having so much fun they don’t realize that these are the types of lessons they get in regular school.”
New Hammond residents Josie and Robert Gonzales were more than just entertained by the animals during the program. They also enjoyed the camaraderie with the other parents and those in the audience.
“The small city we moved from in Illinois had very limited programs for the kids and that was very disappointing,” Josie said. “We wanted to continue to offer our three kids educational opportunities during the summer months and when we found out about the reading program here, we were glad for the support.”
The family began visiting the Hammond Public Library this past spring and continue to come at least three times a week, she said.
“There’s nothing better than to combine fun and learning. This keeps the kids interested and we don’t have to push them. This animal show today, as well as the summer reading program itself, are perfect examples of this.”